Monthly Archives: January 2014

Monday Matters (January 27th, 2014)


Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 27, 2014

Curve balls.

Last Friday, I did my best to fly to a Vestry Retreat near Sewanee to talk about the new work I’m doing with Forward Movement, work having to do with spiritual growth. I got to the airport at 6:00am, about an hour and half early, just to make sure I was on board. Before long, I heard the news delivered cheerfully over the p.a. system, informing us that the night before, someone had left the battery on. The plane would not start, and would not be leaving, oh, for a while. The upshot was that there would be no upshot any time soon. Again, the chipper delivery of the news added to my irritation. After a long time on long lines and not a few phone conversations, I was rerouted. I spent a whole lot of time in various airports and arrived late and frazzled for the retreat. My irritated disposition made my upcoming presentation about spiritual growth seem thin. I was keenly aware of my personal growth opportunities. And I was ashamed of myself when I reflected on stories of fellow passengers, including a couple who would miss their daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner, a sister who would be the only sibling not able to attend a funeral.

The next day, I got to the airport allowing plenty of time before my return flight, eager to get home early enough to get a good night’s sleep. We were about to load the plane when the woman behind the counter came on the p.a. and cheerfully let us know that the flight would be delayed several hours because there was some mechanical difficulty. They’d let us know if and when it would all be corrected. That’s all. Standing on a long line to rebook, I turned to the man behind me, who had never been on a plane before. We shrugged shoulders. I said: “Serenity prayer.” He nodded knowingly.

For me, at least on this occasion, a delayed flight is what my kids call a rich person problem. It’s an inconvenience of minor proportion, a curve ball but mostly inconsequential. It hardly qualifies as hardship. As my wise wife would advise, I should breathe. I wish I was spiritually evolved enough to hear her voice, or for that matter, to embrace what I espouse, which is that the Serenity Prayer is the way to approach moments like this.

It’s ironic to me that as I’m flying around talking to clergy and lay leaders about spiritual growth, an inconvenient airline delay brings turbulence to my spiritual equilibrium. Coping with airline travel is a persistent growth edge for me. I’ve got lessons to learn for sure. It is a parable for how to navigate circumstances beyond our control, knowing that life happens instead of what we plan. What’s your growth edge?

This Monday, as you go about your day guided by your to-do list, chances are something will happen to scramble that list. Forces beyond your power may mock a carefully crafted agenda for the day, the week, the year. Some of those forces will be significant, maybe even tragic. Some will simply be inconvenient. What will it take for you to breathe through them? To see them in perspective. To trust that all will be well. To be thankful for what you have. To see today as a gift. To view curve balls as opportunities, and not as cosmic conspiracy. To learn from the moment.

We never know what’s coming. But we are not left alone. In it all, we are beloved. I wish I could really and always remember that. All will be well. A flight delay, or some other innocuous interruption, may be just the thing to remind us  of that truth. Are we learners?

– Jay Sidebotham 

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to his will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next. 


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (January 20th, 2014)


Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 20, 2014

Here am I. > Who am I? 

As we remember today the life and witness and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr, a question to consider in free time afforded by a federal holiday: How does his call inform your call and mine?

Our church views this contemporary saint as a modern-day Moses. So we read the story from Exodus about the call of Moses, that whole burning bush episode. (A portion of the story is printed in the side column.) It begins with Moses in the wilderness, noticing this unusual sight: a bush that burns but is not consumed with, oh by the way, a voice coming out of it. I imagine that voice sounds like James Earl Jones, or the guy on the Allstate commercials. Moses turns aside to look at the sight (What would have happened if he had kept going? Topic for another column) and says: Here am I.

Those are three dangerous words. As Moses opens himself to the call of God, he learns that God is paying attention to the suffering of the world and God expects Moses to do something about it.

Suddenly the words, “Here am I”, become “Who am I”, a response that often comes to God’s call. The call just must be a wrong number. God has made a cosmic recruiting error, a bad hire. Moses does not imagine himself up to the task. I don’t blame him. The suffering of the world was too great. The oppressors too powerful. The memories of Egypt and his past life too loaded.

How does God answer Moses? He doesn’t tell Moses how great he is. For that matter, God doesn’t remind him of the many ways Moses has fallen short. Guess what, Prince of Egypt turned shepherd: it’s not about you. What is the divine answer to the question: Who am I? God says: I will be with you. Apparently, that’s all Moses needs to know.

This is a day to give thanks for the Martin Luther King. It’s also a day to recall that the work to which he was  so deeply committed is unfinished. It’s work to which we are called in our baptismal covenant, work for justice and peace, respect for the dignity of every human being. Our big and beautiful world remains broken in so many ways, with insurmountable problems around the corner and across the ocean. Racism, bigotry, discrimination, poverty, inequality, violent conflict persist. God knows about those problems, those injustices. And amazingly, God calls us, uses us to respond, to heal a hurting world.

Today, how will you say “Here am I”, making yourself available to the pain of the world in some way.  Maybe you’ll wonder: “Who am I?” because the problems are too big, too intractable, too hard to solve. If you feel that way, and I bet we all do at some point, hear the voice that Moses heard, that Martin Luther King Jr. heard, the voice of God’s compassionate, justice driven heart that says: “I will be with you.”

– Jay Sidebotham 

The Collect for the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last; Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Exodus 3:7-12 

The LORD said to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (January 13th, 2014)


Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 13, 2014

Jesus calls us. But what does he call us?

Sheep? Servant? Friend? Disciple? In Matthew 23, Jesus refers to his disciples as students. That is one way to translate the word disciple. This morning I want to stress the less biblical sounding word student. I’m thinking about how the spiritual journey calls us to be learners.

In his new book 8 Habits of Love, the Rev. Ed Bacon (a great guy who serves as a great rector of a great church, All Saints in Pasadena) talks about what it means to become a learner. He describes a conference where participants were asked to outline their autobiography in three ways: victim, hero and learner. This approach generated three different stories with different energies and outcomes. He writes on p. 42: “A victim feels the need to be defended, vindicated, avenged. A hero needs justification, ego promotion, validation. And a learner? A learner seeks illumination, correction and direction.”

Long ago, I figured out how to write my story of victim, with extraordinary proficiency in holding on to resentment. Most clergy (come on, admit it) have got some of the hero in them. I can write that story. In this chapter of my life, I want to be a better learner. I am learning that to be the path of discipleship is a matter of recognizing that wherever we are in the spiritual journey, there is more. It’s a matter of knowing that we don’t know what we don’t know. And it’s about remembering that we worship a God whose ways are higher than our ways, whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Deo gracias!)

I recently heard a fine sermon at the beginning of the season of Epiphany, memorably posing a simple question: What are you looking for? That seems to be what the season of Epiphany is about, a series of stories about people on a search, whether it is those three wise guys following a star, or those disciples who answer Jesus’ invitation, “Come and see.” The season is about spiritual explorers, adventurers, all the more daring because they don’t really know what they’re looking for or where they’ll end up. These learners are saints. I want to be one too.

In recent days, I’ve been struck with how the theme gets played out in scripture. On Saturday, the reading for Morning Prayer was from the book of Isaiah: Seek the Lord while he may be found. The next reading was from the letter to the Colossians: Seek things that are above, where Christ is. The next reading, from John 14, has one of the disciples saying to Jesus: Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.

The good news is that in the midst of our seeking, sometimes clueless fumbling in the dark, God seeks us. That’s captured in the verses from Psalm 139 printed below. That’s where our faith becomes so important. While we don’t know what the future holds, we know who holds the future.

Often on Sundays, we pray for those who seek God or a deeper knowledge of God. Let that prayer be a prayer for yourself today, a prayer to the God who seeks us out, so much so that he came to live among us. Resolve in this new year (it’s not too late for resolutions) to be a spiritual learner, whatever that looks like. Jesus calls us to that adventure. It may take courage to answer that call, because we don’t know what we don’t know. Answer anyway. Get ready to grow, to learn.

– Jay Sidebotham 

You have one teacher, and you are all students.

– Matthew 23:8

Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. 
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high I cannot attain to it.

-Psalm 139:1-5


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (January 6th, 2014)


Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 6, 2014
The Feast of the Epiphany

Searching for Joy

A poem once offered as sermon in reflection on the gospel for the day (offered below).

If I could meet the magi,
The question on my mind:
What made them take that road trip?
What did they hope to find?

Assume their lives were comfortable.
It paid well to be wise.
They spent their days at camel chase.
At night they scanned the skies.

They knew the stars like back of hand.
They’d studied well and hard.
Advanced degreed astrology,
In school, they got gold stars.

Another way to ask it:
What was it they were lacking?
Was there some royal restlessness
That sent them westward packing?

One eastern night when moon was hid
And stars were shining bright,
They wisely cast a glance above
And spied a different light.

Next night the same, but brighter still.
Where did that star come from?
How could they have been missing it?
And had it been there long?

Mounting camels, off they went
Following that light.
No need to go to mapquest.
The star would steer them right.

I’m sure you’ve heard the gender jokes
How men can’t ask directions.
Not so for these astrologers:
They made a course correction.

By calling on a colleague.
King Herod, deemed much wiser.
They asked if he would point the way.
He called in his advisers.

Who searched the scripture for a text
To pass along to them.
They told the Magi where to go
“Head straight for Bethlehem”

We each are like the magi.
I wonder if you know it.
(Though you may think it less than wise
for priest to pose as poet)

Our lives become predictable.
We live out our routines.
But then a light makes us look up
And restlessness creeps in.

We realize then we’re seekers
For things that fill the bill.
Will money make us happier?
Relationships fulfill?

We sometimes shop at Herod’s
(the king, and not the store)
To see if power fills that place.
We’re always after more.

If we could just work harder.
The next promotion reach.
If we could just act better.
And practice what we preach.

What are you seeking in your life?
Is search for joy your quest?
Have you a clue where it is found?
Or where it’s best expressed?

A search for joy can lose its way
When clouds obscure the star.
And pain of life can hide the light
And then we don’t get far.

Our search for joy can get bogged down,
Get gridlocked spiritually.
Our lives get in a traffic jam
There’s no green light to see.

We focus on what others have.
But what we fail to do
Is seek for joy by looking up
By looking for what’s new.

What’s new is represented
In Bethlehem’s young boy.
That’s where we find an answer
If we’re really seeking joy.

Like those kings who made that trip
And left their status quoing.
There’s new life to be found by all
If we will start let going.

Let go. Let God. Our travel tip.
Let star become the guide.
And know that when we take a step
We go with God beside.

We each are on a journey
One guided by the Spirit.
It sometimes is a bumpy road.
It’s sometimes hard to steer it.

But the journey is a gift itself
When made by me and you.
When traveling with other folks
We come on something new.

A life we’d not expected.
Grace that helps us cope.
Light that shines in darkness.
Amid the cold night: Hope.

Community in loneliness.
A place to bring our gifts.
A common spirit traveling.
A star that spirits lifts.

It’s possible to travel far
And never leave this place.
A journey of the spirit
Starts with a step toward grace.

The biggest trek can be one step
Of welcoming God’s love.
Of worshipping with eyes raised up
That’s how we start to move.

Our world requires magi,
Needs wise folk seeking love
Who look beyond the glitter
To see a star above.

So let’s head back 2000 years
To what these magi teach us.
Across the miles, across the years
Their witnesses still reach us.

We find the magi traveling.
The Exit: Bethlehem
They’re slouching in their camel seats.
The next step’s up to them.

They’ve traveled far. They’re tired.
They’ve quarreled just a bit.
Go right. Go left. Head north.
Head south. But it was worth the trip.

For when they met the infant king,
Entitlement surrendered,.
They offered gold, incense and myrrh
The best they had to tender.

The star they followed led them
To child they now adore
The one they flood with presents
Has given them back more.

It all made sense, so quickly clear
The reason for those miles
The search for joy now ended
With holy family smiles.

It all made sense in worship
They found it filled their needs
And when we worship Christ child king
Our search for joy succeeds.

This ending a beginning
Move ahead they must
They headed home another way
Left Herod in the dust.

Their story teaches lessons still
Through years more than 2k
It teaches us to move ahead
Go home another way.

Go forward from the place you offered
Gift on bended knee.
Go forward to the journey next
Based on Epiphany

Go forward based on glimpse of light
That guides when dark surrounds.
Go forward on your journey.
There’s more joy to be found.

written by Jay Sidebotham 
and offered with apologies to real poets everywhere.

Matthew 2:1-12 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: `And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. 


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.